The Transformation of Genie Francis

Six years ago, a perky 14-year-old blonde teenager named Genie Francis joined the cast of "General Hospital" with only one brief acting stint to her credit: playing Kristy McNichol's best friend in a "Family" episode. Within a year she became a symbol of America's young teenagers, and within three, Genie Francis was a national sensation (with Tony Geary as her love, Luke). But in December 1981, after much hoopla and fanfare on the part of the media and "General Hospital" fans, Genie left the soap to "go on to other things. I was very tired of it," Francis says matter-of-factly. "I now have a chance to really enjoy my life and continue in my career."

Immediately after leaving GH, CBS swooped up the young actress and signed her to a year's contract. During that time, however, Genie made only one movie -- the two-part "Bare Essence," which was created especially for her and garnered high ratings. Although CBS passed on the option to make a series out of it, NBC -- in desperate need of a hit -- did not. Last February, "Bare Essence" debuted as a continuing drama, with Francis as the only female retained from the original cast. Genie found a big difference between television work on nighttime, as opposed to daytime.

"When you do a film," she explains, "although you work very hard, just as hard as you do on "General Hospital," there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Because it only takes two months."

With all the attention being paid to her during her years on "General Hospital," Genie admits that it was the most exciting time of her life. But she never had time to think about what -- if anything -- had changed in her. "I was always on the go -- always moving, always flying here and there, and then doing the show during the week. Weekends were spent on promotion," Francis notes.

It's only since Genie left the show that she's had a chance to reflect on the phenomenon. Her theory is a simple one -- it was the relationship of Luke and Laura that people were interested in. "I think it was an escape and it was a fantasy," Francis believes. "Luke and Laura were what everyone wanted to have in their lives. They wanted to be Luke and Laura. They wanted to be that much in love and traveling around doing crazy things and being carefree, with that element of danger. It was so romantic, very 'Cinderella' -- and people haven't seen too much of that lately.

Looking at Genie Francis today, one senses a different person than the actress everyone loved on "General Hospital". There's a new maturity about her: Genie has become a woman. She looks beautiful and quite slim -- at least 10 pounds lighter than she was while on the soap. At the press conference to launch the "Bare Essence" series, Francis was poised and gracious. In the past the actress had not always been receptive to the media, perhaps because she was weary of the constant bombardment of questions and paparazzi. But this time she stood patiently while the photographers swarmed in. Francis also seems to take her new role quite seriously. At one point, while posing with one of her co-stars, the actress asked him to put down his cigarette. "There are girls out there that emulate everything I do and I wouldn't want to be responsible for them picking up any bad habits," she explained.

Several weeks later, Genie offered her views on the now infamous Luke and Laura rape scene on GH, believing it was a "seduction rape." "It came to the point where it was beyong her control, and she couldn't get away from it," Genie says about Laura. (The same words that show's head writer at the time, Pat Falken Smith, used to describe the scene.) She pauses for a moment, choosing her words very carefully, then continues. "Laura felt the element of danger but she stayed. She went through all the guilt feelings of: Was it me? Did I encourage him?" Genie quotes Tony Geary's explanation of the scene: "What 'General Hopsital' did was take a story that was very delicate, and the told both sides of the story.' Laura only called it rape because she wasn't sure what really happened," the actress acknowledges. There's no way, Francis insists, that she would have done the scene otherwise, since she abhors the idea of a woman falling in love with her rapist.

Laura aside -- after five years on daytime drama, Francis is determined to show the world that she is indeed a good actress -- that she can make the transition from daytime to nighttime. "That's something a lof of people felt I couldn't do," Genie admits. "They felt that Luke and Laura was a fluke, and that it was just something that would pass. I want them to look at me now as a film actress."

Francis is quick to note that she has her work cut out for her. Most people in show business tend to look down on soap actors, and don't readily express interest in hiring daytime performers for other roles. But Genie feels that such biased views are starting to change. "When they see something like the popularity of Luke and Laura," she points out, "the industry has to stand up and recognize soap operas as being good drama."

With daytime television and Laura Spencer behind her, Genie Francis is enjoying the role of Tyger Hayes Marshall on "Bare Essence." It is a part that Francis identifies with far more readily than Laura. "Laura was a very passive character. She was always getting herself into trouble and somebody would save her. The nice thing about Tyler," reflects Genie, "is that she's an active character. She may get herself into trouble, but she will get herself out again." Francis likes the fact that Tyger is a businesswoman who will go out and get what she wants and make her own life. "She's responsible for herself," Genie observes. "And that's quality most people -- and certainly a lot of women -- would like to have."

Genie Francis finds much in common with Tyger. Working steadily since the age of 14, Francis thinks of herself as a very independent, liberated woman, and she wants to be respected as such. She finds it difficult, sometimes, to cope with men's attitudes toward the women of today. Suddenly Genie becomes very animated, wanting to make sure her point comes across. "They (men) think because she's a woman, she obviously doesn't know anything about that (business), but there's nothing about a woman's hormones that make her any less intelligent than a man. Women have to fight that!" Genie says firmly.

As a modern woman, Francis believes in women's freedom to expand their sexual horizons, even though that's not the path she's taking in her own life. "When women's lib first came out," she philosophizes, "women were trying so hard to make a statement. I doubt seriously that that many of those women would really be that promiscuous. I don't think many women can take their bodies that way." There comes a point, Genie opines, when people need love more than anything else, and nothing can be more fulfilling than the love between a man and a woman. Francis feels that women are just beginning to realize their own sexuality and enjoy their femininity. "That's going to make for better relationships with me," she says confidently.

When it comes to her relationships, Genie Francis thinks of herself as very old fashioned -- she needs to be in love before she would sleep with a man and is a strong believer in marriage, children, and a home life. "The older I get," the actress muses, "the more I think about getting married, and how much I want to have children. I adore children!" Genie says earnestly.

What qualities does she look for in a man? Ambition, Francis says quickly, and a sense of humor. "Someone who knows how to laugh at life. You can take it too seriously," Genie observes. But the most important quality a man must have for her is intelligence, and of course, a love for children.

The 20-year-old beauty insists she has difficulty meeting nice men, "because I am who I am. They think I have to be taken out really fancy every night, which certainly isn't true, or that I'm out of their reach, which is also not true."

On the other hand, it's just as hard for Francis to date an actor, because of the professional jealousy which could get in the way of the relationship. "One of the biggest things that gets in my way is my financial status. That's very intimidating," Genie says candidly. "It also makes me nervous. I look and figure out, why is this person with me? I have to be extra cautious. My family didn't have a lot of money when I was growing up, so I've lived with it and I've lived without it," she says plainly. "It's not what makes me happy or sad." In fact, the biggest extravagance the young actress has is her Porsche. Genie laughs at the thought. "It's turned out to be a lemon anway," she grins, "so it's kind of a joke. I bought myself a grown-up toy and it doesn't work!"

Despite her interest in marriage, Francis doesn't have time to devote to the kind of relationship she'd like to have. "These passing little affairs are okay, if that's all they are for," she says grudgingly of today's society, "but when you come right down to it, marriage is the way to go. It's great!"

Genie Francis knows what she wants from life. If "Bare Essence" fails, it's doubtful she'll worry: Genie is confident she will land something else. And if nothing turns up, Ms. Francis might go back to school. Who knows? If that "someone special" comes along, Genie Francis just might get married sooner than she thinks. Not to worry though, because for Genie Francis, acting is, and always will be, her first love.